30 September 2010

Driven to Kill (Themselves)

I used to think that summer was the most dangerous time to be L, G, B, T or some combination or version thereof--or simply to be so perceived.  After all, the dense, sultry air is like alcohol:  Both are catalysts that stir up volatile, and often dangerous, reactions between hormones and hostility.  And, the most terrible and unspeakable of acts can pass, if they are at all noticed, like the most surreal, if lurid, dreams in the viscous, almost liquid heat that fills summer nights.

However as I continue in this strange journey of mine-- which led me to begin a new life as I entered middle age--I've come to realize that for LGBT teenagers and young adults, the first few weeks of the school year may actually be more dangerous than the summer vacation period that precedes it.

Much of what I've seen and heard, in regards to violence against LGBT people, has taken place on or near school grounds, and was perpetrated by students (or their friends or family members) against fellow students or peers.  And then there are those who've taken their own lives because the ostracism, harassment and violence they incur simply for being who they are--or because someone perceived them to be so.

In the latter category is Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who, it is believed,  threw himself  off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly videotaped him having sex with another young man and broadcast that tape over the Internet.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised that even at this late date, some are calling Mr. Clementi a coward for ending his life.  Some of the people who are so judging him are not acting out of any of religious or moral objection; rather, they think he should have faced his dilemma "like a man" and that he should've "grown up" and "gotten over it."  

What they don't realize is the struggle of  so many young queer people (like Clementi) who are living, for the first time, in a wider world where the possibilities for love--but also the prospects of violent death-- are  expanded and deepened, leaves them in a vulnerable state.   It's not uncommon for straight or simply "normal" kids to fall into confusion or, worse, depression and despair, when suddenly  faced with the prospects of having to make decisions that will affect the course of their lives while knowing, deep down, that their inner resources have not developed in tandem.  Young men are particularly vulnerable at that time of their lives, for that is also when they are expected to become men, or at least to be well on their way to that goal.  Yet too many are not (if through no fault of their own) emotionally mature enough to handle what may be their first, or at least most visible, failings in their young lives.  Many "act out" through binge drinking and other kinds of compulsive acts; unfortunately, some enact their frustration and rage in more violent ways.

Ironically, that same insecurity and fear underlies the trepidation of a young gay person, particularly if he is a mild-mannered and sensitive male, who is faced with, for the first time, some freedom to love whom he loves but not the support he'll need for the wrath he may incur as a result of it.  And their surging hormones fill them with a sense of urgency about finding the love, or at least the sense of freedom, they may not have known before.  Some are having their first same-sex relationships, or at least the first ones they're not hiding.  That, at the same time some of their more testosterone-besotted peers are knowing their first failures and rejections, whether in the arenae of school or love.  Some need someone to blame, or at least to lash out against, for their loss of  or in those things about which they felt most confident in themselves.  Nothing is more of a recipe for anger and resentment than to see the ascent of someone who was thought to be an inferior; all you have to do is look at the so-called Tea Party movement to understand that.

If Tyler Clementi--who hasn't been seen since the videotape was posted, and whose car was found near the bridge--did indeed kill himself, then Dharun Ravi is as responsible for his death as the ones who bullied Seth Walsh and Billy Lucas (who was merely perceived as gay) are for the fact that those two teenage boys hung themselves.  Of course, Dharun Ravi is not wholly to blame, any more than the tormentors of Seth Walsh and Billy Lucas are:  All of them undoubtedly experienced difficulties from many other people and institutions.  However, it's difficult not to think that the bullying of Walsh and Lucas, and the violation of Clementi's privacy and personhood, could have "pushed them over the edge."

Now, I am not an expert in bullying, teenage suicide or any related field.  So if you are willing to accept what I've said, you should, as the recipes tell us, add salt to taste.  However, I have been, in my own ways and circumstances, been in the shoes of the tormentors of those young gay men as well as, in some way, those of the young gay men, and any young man or woman who realizes he or she is not going to fit into his or her family's, society's or religion's ideas about love, sexuality and gender.    So, if nothing else, I know that it's not enough to simply condemn the perpetrators or pity the victims.  Nothing will change until more people understand that the perpetrators are not simply mechanisms of evil or bad karma:  They simply are reacting in ways that make sense, even if they're not to be condoned, for people who feel that the way of life they've come to expect is threatened, and who have simply nothing and no one else to blame but the nearest peer who is coming into his or her own.

27 September 2010

What Do I Tell Them?

I had just left the allergist's office.  The rain had softened to a drizzle, and I was walking past the booths of some sort of craft fair or market that was set up in Madison Square Park.  I had walked past the last one, and was leaving the park, when someone said, "I've seen you on TV."

I furrowed my brows.  It's been several years since I did a community-access cable program, and I would be surprised to learn that anyone's still watching the show.  After all, I didn't do it for very long and, well, it was a local community access program.

"I know I've seen you before. Are you a lawyer?"

"Not the last time I checked." 

"Well, I've seen you somewhere before.  My name is Reeba."

"Hi. I'm Justine."

"Now I know...I've seen your blog."

She had just come from a session with her therapist she's been seeing for the past four years.  During that time, she began to take hormones and it shows in her breasts and in her facial lines.  But she still has a fair amount of shadow in spite of her electrolysis.

That may be a reason why she hasn't been feeling confident about herself lately.   Also, she said, she feels as if she hasn't "accomplished anything."  If I've learned nothing else, it's that life isn't about milestones; it's about what steps (or pedal strokes or paddles or whatever metaphor you want to use) you are taking on your journey.   So, I told her, the fact that she's taking a class online is worthy of respect.  It's her first class of any sort in decades, and she is looking at what might be a very long-term goal.  But at least she's doing something that will lead her there, or show her that she should take another path.

Still, I wish I could've given her better advice.  The truth is, much of what I've done has been as much a result of circumstance, necessity or luck--good or bad--as it was of any planning on my part. I could have done many things better than I did, and there are all sorts of things I would do differently.  And I will probably feel the same way some years hence, when I look back at some of the situations and choices I'm faced with now.

In thinking of her, I'm also thinking about Stana.  Coincidentally, her post today is about choices she has to make, and which could greatly affect the course of her life.  She's gotten the green light to work as the woman she is; her family is the only thing between her and her life as the woman she is.  On one hand, she believes they're not, and may never be, ready; on the other, she admits that she never asked them.   However, she adds, "Once that cat is out of the bag, there's no way to stuff it back in, so I am keeping that bag tightly shut."

She summed up part of our (I'm thinking of trans people who are deciding how to live, but I am referring to a lot of other people, too.) dilemma very nicely.  We want, we need, and there's no way back.  The thing is, once you make a decision of that magnitude, a multitude of other decisions will follow.   You "come out;" some accept, some reject; everyone is changed because his or her true self is exposed.  And, whether the outcome is happy or not, there is no way back.

My part-time job is offering me more work for next semester.  And I may have other work in another college.  Those of you who've been reading my blog probably know that I like the work I do, but I don't like my primary workplace.  I mean, I'm glad I have the job.  But it hasn't been intellectually or spiritually nourishing for me and, believe me, I seek those things actively.  That is not good for any educator or creative person, and I just happen to be both.  

Now that I think of it, it's not good for anybody.  I see it every day in the faces and bodies of many of the people there.  I think of the guest who, at a reception following a play at the college theatre,  remarked that he had never seen so many overweight people in one place.  And I've never seen so many people develop health problems in a workplace.  They include the former Director of the Office of Academic Advisement, who lost her gallbladder when she was there.  Others have died, in middle age, of the sorts of things usually suffered by older people.  As bad, or worse, are the truncated emotional and spiritual development I see.  One can see it in the duplicity, backstabbing and plain treachery one sees there. I see it in the faculty and administrators who encouraged me to make the effort to educate my students about experiences like mine, and denigrated or even complained to higher-ups when I did.

I wouldn't presume to tell Reeba or Stana what path they should take.  I would only advise them to consider what cats can't be put back in the bag once they're let out, and what kind of life they might live once the "cat" is gone.  While I would do my transition and surgery over again, I think I would do more and different things to prepare for them--including situating myself differently in terms of work and my  living situation, and even the way I "came out."  At least I am here, living with integrity. And I have a job, which is nothing to sneeze at in this economy.

So what do I tell Reeba and Stana?

26 September 2010

Finding The Address

I know: I haven't been writing much on this blog lately.  I've been writing mainly on my other blog, Mid-Life Cycling.  A year and more than two months after my surgery, and more than seven years after I started my transition, there aren't many milestones to report, at least in regards to my gender change or life since then.

But there is another change that's going on.  As I am not any sort of clinician or scientist, I don't have a name for what I'm experiencing, or whether there is one.  So, if you'll bear with me, I'll describe it as best I can, through incidents and phenomena as well as my own impressions.

Maybe I'll do better to start with how I feel about it:  In a way, it feels the way "passing" did when I first began to go out publicly in women's clothing.   Of course, the thrill in that is long gone, as it should be.  But the satisfaction I experienced as a result has remained with me.  Better yet, I think that what I've been experiencing is what I'd hoped for in those early forays into the world in which I would live and from which I had been exiled until then.

I first noticed the experience I am going to describe last week, when a woman whom I guessed to be my age, but who was actually a bit younger, was trying to get into the course I was teaching.  Somehow she ended up in a class she wasn't supposed to take, and, as the deadline for changing had passed, she needed signatures to get into my or someone else's class.

Back when I was the prof with a beard and corduroy smoking jacket (though I have never smoked), female students would sometimes flirt to entice me to help them in situations like the one I faced with that student last week.  However, that student was trying to appeal to me as one woman would to another.  Part of it was her body language:  Fluid rather than merely languorous, and done in a context of trust that another woman would understand how she feels rather than hoping someone would simply take pity on her without understanding her.

Actually, in that moment, I don't think that I could have been so condescending toward her, even if I had wanted or tried to do such a thing.  She is very thin and even more wrinkled than I am (which were what made her seem older at first), speaks with a mid-Queens accent that would make even "The Nanny" wince and doesn't look as if she's worn anything but jeans and sleeveless tops for about the past thirty years.  So, at first glance, she could hardly have seemed more different from me.  Yet I felt, of all things, that I was looking at myself.

She had that same combination of nervousness, fear, anger and vulnerability that I feel in having to deal with anyone who has any sort of authority over me--especially if that person is a woman who has, or simply feels that she has, reason to see herself being from a higher stratum of society, or simply made of better stuff, than I am.  My main job is precisely the sort of atmosphere that brings that--which is to say the worst--out in women who feel superior to me, even if only because some of the things that have happened to me don't happen to them.  They think the fact that they never had to answer some of the questions I've had to face makes them better somehow than me. And those same sorts of  women who treat women like the student I'm talking about as if she were an unwelcome guest think they are better than her because they've completed degrees and gotten nice jobs and married good men while she has been raising kids by herself on the money she makes as a paraprofessional (what used to be called a "teacher's aide") and trying to earn credits so that she can increase her salary and complete a degree.

In spite of what I've just described, I could not imagine her going to a man for help--in anything.  I don't believe that she is a lesbian, or even bisexual.  Rather, I just think that men have not been part of life for a very long time, if they ever were.

My circumstances may be different from hers, but I could just tell that she has felt so much of what I've felt, as I've described it.  Plus, I could tell that she is sensitive and vulnerable in the same ways I am, and that she is therefore hurt in the same ways and for the same reasons.  Yet she has developed strengths that are familiar to me  in ways that I recognized as easily as the blocks I ride or walk to my apartment.

How do I know these things?  The real question is:  How could those things not be so?  She practically exudes them from every pore and orifice of her being.  I could see it all in her eyes.  Yes, all of it.  How could I not?

Those eyes are...my eyes.  It actually scares me to recall how much her eyes look like mine.  I'm not talking only about the colors and shape of them, which bear a more than uncanny resemblance to mine, but also the way light is refracted into the memories that she holds, whether or not she wants to.

She was in my class this week.  On my way to it on Thursday, I had another experience that is part of the change I've noticed.  I was leaving my primary job to take the bus.  Seven different bus lines stop at the station where I had to catch the one I was taking. There, two young women and one who was a bit older, though younger than me, waited.  The older one stood between her suitcase and what looked like a large laundry bag and, even though she was at least forty pounds overweight, seemed wizened.

"Excuse me, miss."    Getting my attention, she asked which bus line she needed to take to a terminal.  I told her there were two lines she could take.   She thanked me and explained that at that terminal, she had to take another bus to where she was going: a shelter for battered women.  And, she added, she was going there from another shelter for battered women.

All I could do was to listen.

She said that she'd been married to her husband for three years and that he had been beating her almost from the beginning.  "I just decided I wasn't going to take it any more."

"How long have you been away from him?"

"Since June," she said.  She hoped he would change, but some family members advised her he wouldn't.  At the same time, she said, some people other people in her family, and in her church--all of them women, including the pastor's wife--told her that she should stand by her man; that was her duty as a Christian woman, they said.   She did not talk to any men, including the pastor, about it.

At one time in my life, I could not have felt anything more than pity for either woman.  Of course:  How could anyone not feel it?  But I notice that I had another feeling.  It wasn't anger, for them or at anyone else:  If I wasn't beyond that emotion, I had no need for it. And, of course, any rage on my part would have been completely useless to them.

What I did feel was something that might be described as a kind of solidarity.   Both of those women were alone when I met them, and were moving forward because they had no choice but to do anything else.  They were experiencing a kind of solitude that only women of a certain age can experience.  Men, I believe, experience that level of solitude only by choice:  Monks and widows both live alone, but that is where the similarity between them ends.  And if you find yourself living by yourself as a widow (in fact or effect) would, you cannot be a monk (or nun, for that matter), even if you wanted to.  A widow may have many friends and family members, but she is still alone.  And she is even if she remarries.  

I realize now that I have always lived in that sort of solitude.  The thing is that it almost mutually excludes loneliness, because being alone is better than having malicious, willfully ignorant or otherwise spiritually toxic company.  Those women I met understand that, I'm sure.  And that is the reason why I was willing to help that student and I really wasn't wishing I were somewhere else when that battered woman told me her story.

In between those two encounters, I had a job interview.  It was, ironically enough, at a college next door to one where I once taught.  Perhaps even more ironically, during my first days of living as Justine,  I had briefly met the man who was interviewing me.  I don't know whether he recalls that encounter--Really, there is no reason why he should, as it was unremarkable--and I had no inclination to remind him of it.  I had the feeling he didn't, and he actually seemed  impressed with me--or, I should say, my work and my range of skills.  He expressed interest in bringing me on to teach in January and "taking things from there."  First, I have to pass a background check.

As far as I could tell, he saw me as a middle-aged woman who had talents and skills he could put to use.  I think he also responded to my confidence:  From the moment I left my apartment that day, I felt it.  Of course, it didn't hurt that I was steps away from my door when a woman who lives in the apartment building on the corner said, "You look really nice today."  And, along the way, in front of the college where I used to teach, I met a young man who was active in the college's gay-straight alliance when I was there.  Now he's a staff advisor for it.  "I would love it if you could come back. So would a lot of other people."  

Some day, perhaps.  For the moment, I was on my way.  Then I saw the numbers of the address for the college in which I had my interview.  

19 September 2010

A Dilemma

Today I got an e-mail from another prof at my main job.  She and I have completely different schedules this semester, so I haven't seen her.  And, she is as busy as she says she is because, among other things, she heads an interdisciplinary program at the college, and is the college's representative on the university senate and to the union.

Even though some of our opinions and ideas are very different, I have always liked  and, more important, trusted her. While she is a late-middle-aged version of the sort of tweed-clad hippie the University of Wisconsin in Madison was graduating around 1972, she does not have that terrible quality that so many leftist academics (or those who fancy themselves as liberals) display:  that curious sort of hypocrisy that causes them to, sometimes misguidedly, take up the causes of people they will never meet and issues that they understand only in abstract ways while they neglect their children (if indeed they have them) or anyone or anything else they encounter every day.  Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew could have had them (or their 16th-century equivalents) in mind when he said, "In brief, sir, study what you most affect."

Anyway...I had asked this prof if she would write a letter of reference for me.  It would actually be more of a character than a professional reference, as she works in a different department and has only passing familiarity with my work.  She agreed, and that presents a dilemma.

You see, she feels that the strongest endorsement she can make of me comes from what students in her classes say about me.  She teaches a course that's part of the college's core requirements, so her students have had courses with nearly every other instructor in the college--including me.  And, she says, her students often make unsolicited comments--all of them positive--about me.  According to her, the students say they like and respect me as a teacher and admire me for my courage.  She has told me that her students have made comments "I want to be like her." and "She makes me realize I can do what I want to do."

Mind you, she's willing to write a reference that doesn't mention those things.  But, she says, she could write something even more powerful--even more powerful than anything she's ever written for anybody--if she could mention what her students said.

What that would do, of course, is to reveal that I'm transgendered.  And I feel that if I were to go elsewhere, I don't want to go in as the "token trannie" or as someone who's a transgendered prof or transgendered whatever.  I'm liking the fact that on my part-time job, I have not talked about it and have felt no pressure to do so.

Now here's another part of the dilemma:  The college to which I want to apply for a job has a reputation for openness to , and acceptance of, LGBT people.   It has a very large and active gay-straight alliance, and, from what I've heard, I wouldn't be the only trans faculty member there.  So it's no surprise that while most people there accept members of the LGBT spectrum, they also understand the differences between us.

On one hand, it's tempting to let the prof talk about what her students say and the workshops and guest lectures I've given on the topic.  On the other, I don't want my identity to be the basis of acceptance any more than I want it to be the cause of rejection.

So...Here's another case of "What's A Girl To Do?"

15 September 2010

Meeting The Right Ones

It's still strange when a man hits on me, even though that's been happening with greater frequency.  Actually, I may just be noticing it with greater frequency.  

To tell you the truth, for much of my life, I wasn't comfortable with the fact that someone or another was attracted to me.  There's one all-too-facile explanation for that:  Because I felt uncomfortable with my own body--no, I felt appalled and revulsed by it--I felt that anyone who was attracted to it had to be, as we said circa 1992, "damaged goods."  And I felt that anyone who was attracted to anything about me besides my body had to be even even more fucked-up than I was, or simply stupid.  

That self-loathing had a number of sources, but the main ones were my gender identity conflict and the sexual molestation I experienced as a child.  The former preceded the latter:  I can remember a time before the sexual abuse, but I cannot remember a time when I didn't feel as if I should've been female, whether or not I could articulate it in some way that made sense to anyone but me.  

Well, I have dealt with both issues as best as I and doctors, therapists, friends and some family members could. I guess that might make me more attractive (Notice that I used the comparative, not the absolute.) to some people.  And while I know I'm not and never will be a beauty and have all sorts of character flaws, there are plenty of people who, I daresay, are even less appealing than I am yet have no trouble meeting people.  So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that some guy asked whether I was "doing anything" last night, or that a couple of guys I see every day in the neighborhood have expressed interest in me.  

But it's still weird.  A woman I know tells me to "get used to it." She was probably accustomed to such attention by the time she was twelve years old, and she's even older than I am.  

I know I'd like to get involved with someone.  But I'm not ready to hop into bed with just anyone. While I know what attracts me (I'm talking about personal as well as physical traits.), I'm still cautious, perhaps to the point of being fearful.  I don't want to end up in a compromising position with someone who's dangerous, violent or simply disrespectful.  And, while you can practically see the skulls and crossbones on some people, there are many others who aren't what they seem.  

Now I'm realizing that everyone with whom I've ever been romantically involved--in fact, everyone with whom I've even had more than one night of sex or more than a couple of dates--has been, in one way or another, as much of a misfit as I was.  Even the ones who were beautiful, smart, interesting or sympathetic were alienated, damaged or at least wounded.  A couple used one or more of those qualities to provoke my sympathy and sometimes to cynically manipulate me.  I don't want to repeat such experiences.

Maybe because I'm so used to being involved with problematic people, I don't know how to find or relate to the ones who are serene and secure in themselves.  You know what they say about doctors (some of them, anyway):  They see nothing but sick people,so they don't know what a well person is.  When physicians are admonished to heal themselves first, part of that healing involves, I think, seeing healthy people and realizing that they are the normal ones.

Perhaps cops make an even better analogy.  They spend all of their time dealing with the worst elements of society.  After a while, they start to think everyone is a criminal, or capable of being one.  Then again, I'm not sure most cops get over mentality that even when they're retired.

Well, I guess I know what one of my challenges in my life as Justine is.  

14 September 2010

A Crossing

After work today I flew to  San Francisco and have been taking in the Bay Area hills and wind from my bike.  And, yes, I rode by Stanford:

All right.  So I wasn't in the Bay Area.  I was really in Hollywood.  Well, kinda sorta.  I was actually in a neighborhood called Holliswood, which isn't far from where I work.  But I had never been in it before.    At the intersection of Palo Alto and Palo Alto, a car pulled up to me.  A woman whom I would have guessed to be a few years older than me leaned out of her window and asked whether I knew where the Holliswood Hospital is.  

"Sorry, I don't.  Have a good day."

Well, I took a right at that intersection, and two blocks later, there was the hospital!  I felt bad for that woman:  For all I knew, she drove miles in the opposite direction.

Anyway, as it was an utterly gorgeous, if somewhat windy, afternoon, I just rode wherever Arielle took me.  Much of the time, I didn't know where I was.   I didn't mind, really:  Along the way, I stopped at a drive-in convenience store for a drink and snack.  Two men worked there:  I got the impression they were the proprietor and his son, and they had lived in the town--Lynbrook--all of their lives.  And they seemed especially eager to help me--even more so than the other customers, for some reason.

Then I took my Diet Coke with lime and Edy's dixie cup to a schoolyard/playground a block away. I went there because I saw benches in the shade:  I'd been in the sun for a couple of hours and wanted to get out of it for a few minutes, even though the weather wasn't hot at all. There, another black woman a few years older than me started a conversation with me upon seeing Arielle.  She started riding again "a few years ago," after having both of her hips replaced and back surgery.  She says that even though her rides aren't as long as those of some of the cyclists she sees, it's "what I enjoy most in my life, apart from my grandchildren."  I'll think about her the next time I'm whining (even if only to myself) about feeling subpar.

 When I got on my bike again, I finally  knew where I was when I had to stop at a grade crossing for a passing Long Island Rail Road (Yes, they still spell "Rail Road" as two words.)  commuter train.  

I had stopped at that same crossing, which was on Franklin Road, the last time I cycled there.  That was eight years ago, at this time of year.  Then, as now, I didn't get there intentionally, but I didn't mind being there.

I took that ride eight years ago at about this time in September, if I recall correctly.  I probably do, because I also recall it as being around the time I started teaching at La Guardia Community College, which begins its Fall semester around this time of the month.  And it was also about three weeks after I moved out of the apartment Tammy and I shared, and into a neighborhood where I knew no one.

Even though it was less than an hours' ride from where Tammy and I had been living (in Park Slope, Brooklyn), the block to which I moved--which is only seven blocks from where I now live--seemed even more foreign to me than Paris did when I first saw it.  So, for that matter, did most of the rest of Queens, not to mention the Nassau County towns through which I pedaled then and today.

I think that day at the railroad crossing, I knew--or, perhaps, simply accepted the fact--that I was entering a new and very uncertain stage of my life.  I knew what I wanted and needed to do:  In fact, a year earlier I had the experience that taught me I really had no choice but to do it.  And I also realized something I didn't quite understand at the time:  that I wasn't going to be riding "as" Nick for much longer, and that also meant that I probably wouldn't be riding with the racers and wannabes.  

Why didn't I know what all of that meant?  Well, I did know one thing:  that the difference between cycling as Nick and cycling as Justine would not be just a matter of wearing different clothes, having longer hair and possibly riding a different bike.  But how else, I wondered, would they differ? I even asked myself whether I would continue cycling.  After all, I didn't know any other cyclists who were transitioning, and I didn't know (or didn't know that I knew) any who were post-op. Would I even be able to continue?

Well, of course, I found some of the answers through my own research (This is one time I was thankful for the Internet.) and from women cyclists I know.  And, since my operation, Velouria and others have given me some very helpful advice. 

One thing hasn't changed:  I often end up by the ocean even when it isn't my intent.  

I was happy to go to there, though:  Only a few people strolled the boardwalks, and even fewer were on the beaches. I didn't see anyone swimming.

And then there were the couples that remained after the summer romances ended:

Actually, I know nothing about them.  I took the photo because I liked her skirt.

And, once again, I ended up in Coney Island, where I rode down the pier to take a couple of photos.

The young man who was just hanging out was the only other person there.  He asked me what I was doing tonight.  Now that's something I wouldn't have anticipated at that crossing eight years ago!

13 September 2010

After 9.11: Riding Without The Guys

Now, two days after the anniversary of 9.11, I'm thinking about how that day changed my cycling life.  I'm not going to talk about how it changed my life because that's way beyond the scope of this blog, much less this post.

None of the cycling partners I had at that time in my life are cycling partners now.  In fact, most of them dropped out of my life, or I dropped out of theirs, not long after that time. 

I'm thinking in particular of someone we used to call "Crazy Ray."  I met him back when I was an active off-roader; later, he, a few other guys and I did road rides.  

He always seemed to be riding the line between physical courage and insanity.  One of the things I prized most about my pre-transition life was his respect.  When we pedaled through the trails--and sometimes off the trails--in the Catskills and in Pennsylvania and Vermont, I didn't do all of the jumps or other stunts he did.  And I didn't barrel down hills with the abandon he did.  But I was in really good shape in those days, and I could keep up with him in every other aspect of our rides.  None of the other guys in our "crew" could say that--not even the ones who were a decade or more younger.  He noticed that.

But, he once told me, the real reason he respected me was that I wasn't a "bikehead." And, he said, he admired the fact that I have the sort of education and do the kind of work I do.  That, I thought, was interesting, as he seemed satisfied with his work, and was certainly earning a lot more money than I was.  But, he said,  there were a lot of things he wished he learned, but felt he couldn't.  I suspected that he had a reading or other kind of learning disability; I offered to help him if only to figure out what kind of help he would need and whether I could give it, or refer him to someone who could.  He said he would take me up on it, but he never did.

I think that he felt a bit insecure, not only around me, but around his girlfriend, who was working on a PhD in, if I remember correctly, sociology.  I know that he felt insecure around some of her friends and colleagues, whom he met at parties.   I told him he shouldn't; he actually sustained thought and expressed himself well.  "But," he said, "I know I can do better."

I'm sure he could have done "better."  Maybe he has. I haven't heard from him since about two weeks after 9.11.   

We had our last phone conversation in the early hours of one morning that was, as I recall, chilly for the time of year.  Actually, he called me and cried.  That wasn't like him.  "Ray, whatever it is, you know I'm cool with it."

"It's not like that, he sobbed."  I heard other voices, and machines, in the background.

"Where are you?"

"I'm at the World Trade Center."

"What are you doing there?"

He explained that he'd gone there to help with the rescue and recovery.  His metalworking skills, which he gained from his work as a plumber, were needed.  So, as soon as it was possible to ride his bike there--a couple of days after the planes hit the towers--he went to help.  That was more than a week before our phone conversation; he had been at the site around-the-clock ever since.  And, as you can imagine, he had gotten almost no sleep during those long nights.

"Why don't you go home, see your girl?"

"I can't.  They need me."

"But you've been there nonstop.  Nobody can ask more of you than you've already done."

"Yeah, but..."

"But nothing. You can't take care of anybody else if you don't take care of you."

"All right.  Maybe tomorrow I'll go home, for the day."

"Would you like for me to bring you anything?"

"No, Sarah will do that for me.  But thanks..."  He was crying again.

I never heard from him again.  Nor did I hear from any of the rest of our "crew."  I know that at least one other was working at the World Trade Center site in those days after the attack.  

That fall and into the winter (which was one of the mildest I can recall), I rode, almost always by myself.  I didn't mind that; actually, I was trying to make sense of a few things--or, more accurately, some things made perfect sense and I was trying to deal with them.  

Most of them related in one way or another to the gender transition I would undertake.  Tammy realized that I was headed for it and there was no way to stop it; when I offered to live the rest of my life as Nick, she said, "No, you can't do it just for me. In fact, you can't do it at all."  

9.11 didn't cause me to re-evaluate my life or undertake my transition.  However, less than two months before that day, I had the experience that caused me to realize that I could no longer live in this world as a man.  I had always known myself as female, but I spent more than forty years trying to live otherwise.  Just a few weeks before 9.11, I realized that I simply could no longer pretend.    And, just after 9.11, I found myself thinking about the people who died that day, and how many of them had unrealized dreams and unfulfilled lives of one sort or another.  I realized that had I been in one of those towers, I would have had the "M" on my death certificate.

And so I embarked upon my transition.  However, the transition didn't entail only what I did consciously and willfully.  It also involved those parts of my life from which I passed, or that passed from me.  And it, like 9.11, would change my cycling life as well as the rest of my life.

12 September 2010

Charlie's Pillow

The weather has been autumnal for the past few days:  cool and breezy.  Today some rain was added to the mix.  

I suppose that if I were another sort of creature, I'd be thinking about hibernating.  Actually, I did that, more or less, this afternoon:  I took a nap when I didn't have much incentive to go out.

Charlie and Max appreciated the time I spent at home today.  They took turns curling up on me.  Charlie especially seemed to be enjoying my time at home:  He fell asleep on me.  And he propped his head on my right breast.

Now, my assets aren't going to rival  Pamela Anderson's, nor do I want them to.  But I think they've grown, if just a bit, since my surgery.  When I started taking hormones, the doctor said my breasts would grow for about a year or two until they were about a size smaller than my mother's.  That's what happened.  Nobody said anything about breast growth after surgery.  And, while they don't look bigger, somehow they do feel as if they've grown.  Or, more precisely, they seem more supple, which may be the reason why they seem a little bigger. 

Maybe that's what Charlie noticed.  He used to curl up on my torso and prop his head on my shoulder.  But the last few times he's curled up on me, he's used my breast--the right one--for a pillow.

I guess I should be happy that he's not using my belly for a pillow, though he could.   Still, it's odd to know that I have enough on my chest for him to lay his head --and close his eyes.    Somehow it's even stranger than--although as exhilarating as-- the first sensation I felt in my new clitoris and vagina.  I guess I was expecting to feel twinges, pulses and tingling in my new sexual organs, but I wasn't expecting my breasts to serve as a headrest.

Will there be more surprises?  I suppose that question answers itself:  If you have to ask about what will happen, it is by definition unexpected, and therefore a surprise.   At least these surprises are interesting, and even pleasant.

11 September 2010

Acting Like It's 9/10

I called Mom and Dad last night to wish them a happy anniversary.  My father asked whether I was going to the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center.  I said I was thinking about it.  But not long after talking to him, I decided against it.  For one thing, I didn't lose anyone that day nine years ago.  So I really didn't know what I could offer anyone by being there.  Some might say "solidarity," but  I'm not so sure that I am capable of even that.  Empathy, perhaps, at least to some degree:  I have endured grief, however different it may be from theirs.  Then again, anyone of my age who's lived anything resembling a real life could say the same thing.

And, truth be told, it looked as if the World Trade Center was going to be an arena for the battle between those who don't want to see a mosque built there and those who see building it as a matter of liberty.  In the former camp are some lunatic pastor who threatened to tell his congregation to burn copies of the Qu'ran.  Just what the world needs right now...

But even more disturbing, to me, are those who would profit from such a fight, which further victimizes the victims' families to the point that they can be nothing but victims when they are prompted to talk about their victimization by members of the media horde--and, worse, when politicians are using the victimhood of the victims' families to further their own careers, or to revive moribund campaigns.  Now, I'm not a fan of politicians generally, but I see them as particularly grotesque when they show up in just the place and time that will allow them to benefit from other people's grief.

And their speeches--they're never about the people.  They're about some abstraction or another.  Actually, that's not quite accurate.  When something is abstract, some people have more or less clear ideas of what it is, or at least what it represents.  But if you ask most people what "liberty," "terror" or "triumph" mean, they probably couldn't even begin to hazard a guest.  It's not that all of those people are stupid.  They simply are hearing what they've heard all of their lives and repeating it.

Lots of people get through life that way.  And they "get along" with others to the degree that they simply relay what they hear.  That's what allows them to talk about a "war on terrorism" and to think that "fighting" it has something to do with "liberty," "justice" or  being an "American."

Mind you, they are saying things that meant something at one time, and probably still have meaning.  But they no longer have any idea of what those meanings are.  "Muslim" thus becomes a nationality or ethnicity rather than a religion and "radical" means whatever doesn't like or agree with you.

And, in that schemata, someone's identity becomes his or her destiny, and having a capacity for something means being an automaton that can't help but to do whatever it is one has the capacity for doing.  Thus, if you do a good job of teaching a class, they think you're "born to" be an academic, and they try to tell you that they "can't see" you "doing anything else"--provided, of course, that your doing that thing doesn't challenge them in any way.  Likewise, if you care about something that you believe in more than your life itself, you are automatically seen as someone who will die--and cause others to die--for your beliefs.

What I've just described not only precludes any ability to actually think (as opposed to simply making intellectual gestures), it also prevents empathy.  And, even children who don't know the word "empathy" can see its absence when some authority figure is "talking at" them.

That is exactly what I feel every day on my regular job.  There, I am seen as someone who is bound to act in certain ways because I have undergone a gender transition and the surgery.  I really try to be something more than that, but I am given a hard time because I don't fit into notions they have about transsexual people.

And they are the ones who tell you that they're not treating you with prejudice against who you are, and would have you believe that none of their colleagues are, either.  Some of them go to great lengths to make you believe that they understand how you feel--that they "understand" you--whatever that means to them.

In other words, they do exactly what I didn't want to do today:  to display unearned emotions and to appropriate your right to be heard.  And, after silencing you, they'll use you for their purposes--whether you're a tennis player, trannie,  or someone else.  Those purposes are always encoded in some vaguely abstract term:  As the people who act is if it's 9/10, or if they want time to revert to that date,  talk about "liberty" and "war"s against "terrorism" and such, education administrators act as they do in the name of eliminating "disruptions" and doing things "for your own good."  Those administrators no more know you than those who want to "bring back America" know a Muslim or a "terrorist." 

In brief, there is nothing more cynical--and there are very few things I detest more--than exploiting someone's victimhood and grief.

08 September 2010

Gender Studies

OK, now I’m going to offend Floyd “I have a naturally high testosterone level”  Landis  and get myself barred from every gender studies program in the world.  But it will be a lot of fun.  Here goes:

All cyclists are, or should have been born, women because

  •        We absolutely must have the right shoes.
  •         We absolutely must have the right bag.
  •         Not having the right outfit can ruin our day.
  •         We accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!
  •     We know that titanium is sooo 1996.
  •     We spend more to get less.
  •      We justify maxing out credit cards and raiding 401 K’s by saying, “I bought it on sale!”
  •     We can never be rich or thin enough. (Don’t I know about this one!)
  •      No matter what we do, we end up with “helmet hair.” 
  •      Our spouses/partners/loved ones simply cannot understand.
Trust me:  I know!

04 September 2010

You Do It So It Won't Be A Big Deal

I'm still thinking about the experience I had the other day at my new part-time (one class, to be precise) gig.  There is an irony to it that I'm seeing just now:  In some way, my gender reassignment surgery didn't make that much difference--at least in that situation--and that is what I wanted.

And that is the very reason why I made the changes I've made.

In other words, I was able to have a teach, walk around, have a snack and sit in the summer afternoon sun among hundreds of young people--and I was nothing more than a middle-aged woman, if I was noticed at all.  If any of them noticed me, he or she might've thought I was a professor, simply because I am older than them and wasn't wearing a uniform of some kind.  Actually, that happens even when I'm not working:  People often take me for an educator of some sort, or a writer, and I don't try to project either.

But I realized that what I was experiencing was, in at least some way, the point of my surgery and all of the things that led up to it:  I wasn't seeking a different life so much as I wanted simply to experience life as the person I am, in a body that is a reflection of it.  And that is exactly what happened the other day.  I wasn't explaining, or apologizing for, myself--and nobody demanded those things of me.  

That's not to say that I want to leave everybody and everything I've ever known.  Some trans people do that after their surgeries, or even while they're preparing for it, and it doesn't always turn out well.  Plus, when you get to a certain age, it's not as feasible simply because it's more difficult to start over.  I want to be around people for whom my transition--if they know about it--will not be an issue. Such has been the case with my old friends who've remained with me as they were friends of Nick.  For them, there's not so much difference, except that I've been happier, so--as they say--they like my company more.  And, of course, my parents have been supportive even when they haven't been approving.  That in itself is a testament to what kind of people they are, and why I'm not going to leave them behind.  (Actually, I don't think I could, even if I wanted to.)

But then there are people--including some at my regular job--who see me only in terms of my transition, even if they never knew me as Nick.  And then there are the ones who really leave me confused and frustrated:  They were fine with me until either:  a. I got my current position there or b. I got my operation.  I've mentioned some of them, if not by name, on other posts.  As I've mentioned, they can be treacherous.   What I've learned is that they haven't changed:  I'm simply seeing a part of them I might not have seen otherwise.  

At least I know that it doesn't have to make a difference.  After all, I'm getting to live as the person I always knew myself to be.  I'll still have that when those people are no longer in my life.